Israel’s Settlement Beast

It’s a mildly comforting scene for Palestinians to see Jewish settlers clash with the Israeli government. In Palestinian terms this is a battle between bad and really bad and it brings us a smidgen of delight when we see the two sides butt heads. Of course, this is an infantile sentiment, given that in the larger picture of things, their bickering really has nothing to do with us. Nonetheless, it is strangely satisfying.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent decision to declare a 10-month moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank has drawn the ire of settlers across the board, even though the declaration in its current form is hardly threatening to them or their homes. The freeze does not include the following: settlement construction already underway, east Jerusalem, or public buildings such as schools and synagogues. Neither is private building included in the government decision. Which, it goes without saying, leaves a lot of wiggle room for these cancerous growths to continue to spread.

Still, the decision has not sat well at all with Israel’s settler population which has proceeded to one, scramble to construct as many structures as humanely possible and two, fight their government inspectors tooth and nail whenever they come to ensure that Netanyahu’s decision is being implemented.

Of course, the Palestinians have not been saved from the settlers’ wrath, as is customary. Since the decision, settlers throughout the West Bank have attacked nearby Palestinian populations, pelting their cars with stones, setting fire to their trees and physically attacking them near their homes. Jewish settlers are a constant plague to Palestinians in the West Bank, not only because they are living on their land and have deprived many of them of their livelihood and security, but because settler vigilantism is a constant threat. Palestinian cars have been burned, olive trees uprooted, men, women and children attacked and livestock stolen by belligerent settlers who operate more or less with impunity while the Israeli army turns a convenient blind eye to their acts of violence.

However, it is interesting to watch as the Israeli government locks horns with its settler population after so many years of appeasement. Frankly, they deserve it.

For years, we have heard how the majority of mainstream Israelis oppose the settlements, or at least don’t care if they stay or go. This is understandable given the amount of money, manpower and military might have gone into sustaining these illegal colonies, not to mention the bad rap Israel gets internationally for its settlement policies. However, contrary to logic, which dictates that Israel should forsake settlements for the larger goal of peace and to abide by its own people’s wishes, settlements and settlers have expanded and multiplied in exponential proportions since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank in 1967. Today the settler population in the West Bank and east Jerusalem is approximately half a million people.

The question is why? Why have all the consecutive Israeli governments allowed, or worse yet encouraged, settlement expansion, well knowing that international law deems them illegal and illegitimate and that in any negotiations, settlements are right there at the top of the "need to go" list? The answer is simple. Israel has expansionist goals in the West Bank and Jerusalem, unlike in the Gaza Strip where it was willing to relinquish Jewish settlements there under the guise of "sacrificing for peace." Israel has no intention of relinquishing the entire West Bank and certainly not all of east Jerusalem in any final settlement with the Palestinians, and the best way to ensure that is through its settlement policy. Creating facts on the ground that involve real people with real lives is a surefire way of adding a tangible human aspect to the conflict and thus scoring more political points.

The only problem is that in forwarding these expansionist goals, Israel’s governments have created a beast. Settlers have been allowed to indulge their extremist ideology that espouses the insane notion that the entire land of Palestine was promised to them by God and that they therefore have a carte blanche to do as they please. The fact that Israel’s military establishment and its political institutions have funded and sustained these settlements, provided protection for its settlers and defended their existence in international arenas has only strengthened this extremist ideology among this population. Even Israelis who moved to settlements for economic purposes rather than ideological ones ultimately believe it is their right to be there. No consideration is given to the usurped land on which their homes are built.

Israel’s coddling of its settler population now means it is having a hard time reining them in. The most extremist settlers who scamper to take over West Bank hilltops before any settlement freeze or evacuation, have vowed to resist any moves from government inspectors, and a mass settler demonstration against the freeze is scheduled for December 9. From the settlers’ point of view, this is not unreasonable. For all these years, they have lived on occupied land unhindered. Now, some wet- behind-the-ears US President is dictating to Israelis where they can or cannot live?

For the Palestinians, the freeze is nothing groundbreaking. Netanyahu has made it painfully clear to us and to his "settler brothers" that the freeze is temporary –” 10 months –” will not include the major settlement blocs in the West Bank and will completely exclude east Jerusalem. In practical terms, this means that once the 10 month period is over, construction may resume as usual. That is, presuming some sort of comprehensive agreement isn’t reach, which is a fair assumption by the looks of it. This is hardly promising in terms of negotiating a final settlement. For us, all settlements are illegal and must be dismantled for any lasting peace to prevail. Even President Obama gets this, regardless of how hard he is willing to push for it. There is no doubt he also understands that a 10-month moratorium on construction can never be a goal in itself but rather one means to a much larger end. Still, small victories are victories nonetheless. If Israel is made to bear the wrath of the beast it created, there will be no complaints from us.